The Little Lake Cottage
The Little Lake Cottage
I’ve decided, since so many of the projects I’m sharing with you this year center around improvements to our home, to tell you how we came to live in this little lake cottage.
And that’s what it is. A little lake cottage. It is not a Maison du Lac. It is small and quaint. At least, quaint is our goal. Or our impossible fantasy. Depending on the moment.
Before, we lived in an eclectic, historic neighborhood. On Mondays.
The rest of the week, it was the hood. Just your random old people, young people, drug dealers, and working girls. I first told you about it here. It was time to leave.
We’d been looking to buy a house for about four months, placed offers on two. Multiple offers on one of them. Somehow, we managed to find the only two houses on the market with neurotic, delusional owners.
We wanted a fixer-upper. Something we could make our own while creating a little equity. Get more than we could afford had it been in pristine condition and still get the colors, finishes, and materials we wanted.
The first was a Tudor style.
On the back, a double deck was rotten and falling off the house. The upper level had crashed into the lower level and the wood was so rotted, it looked like black feathers.
This picture is very misleading. That dogwood tree on the corner was the most solid piece of wood we saw.
We walked past a laundry room and into the kitchen. There were squares of cardboard on the floor in both rooms that said, “DO NOT STEP HERE.” The owner said, “Be careful. I haven’t gotten around to fixing that yet.” The floor had rotted through. Nothing, literally nothing, had been done to this house in 20 years.
But it had so much potential! I felt like Betty Jo on Petticoat Junction when she found a shack in the woods and wanted to remodel it into a love nest to share with her new hubby, Steve.
I researched the owner’s financial status with the house. It’s amazing what you can find online at county tax records. He was already behind on taxes two years. Our agent said the county will start foreclosure proceedings at three years. He had about 7 months to go. He was behind on two lines of credit, with balloons due in 4-6 months. Evidently, he’d been a building contractor and over the past ten years had flipped between flush and flop in his income—paying cash, then taking out lines of credit during the lean times.
We made an offer. Rejected. It was reasonable. The house had been on the market almost 2 years. We were the first offer ever tendered. Sane people had run.
But we were different. We saw so much potential. We made a higher offer. Rejected. He countered. We met his counter. He wouldn’t sign the papers.
His agent told our agent that after we first looked at the house, he refused to let anyone else come inside. He refused to open the door. I think he needed meds. He seemed scared of life.
We found another house. So sad. The owners had lived there 40 years. They’d now died and their children were selling their home. A story and a half, brick, with a screened porch, located on the back end of a nice, little street. The property was bordered by a creek and woods. One of the pluses was the unfinished attic. We could make it into an awesome master suite with a bath and study and double the square footage.
As we walked through the house, scraps of their past strewn about, we could imagine the couple going about their lives. The husband had a little work shop out back, some of his tools still lay on the work bench. I could see his wife in the kitchen, a spice rack, circa 1950s, still hung on the wall. A walker was folded up against the wall. And now they were dead.
We made an offer. The children said, “That’s the second (or third, I forget) time we’ve had that same figure offered. We’re going to take it off the market and do the work ourselves.”
Clue, people! Maybe that’s what it’s worth. We were frustrated.
Our agent suggested we look at this lake cottage. Would we want to live that far from where I worked? It did need attention. A lot of attention. 30-year-old mauve carpet that matched 30-year-old Formica. 20-year-old cobwebs. What did we think?
And that’s how we came to live in this little lake cottage.
The cottage had issues. It was overwhelming. And to think someone had thought this was acceptable. Some days, we wondered what we’d been thinking.
The family that had originally built and used this cottage 30 years ago had grown up and moved. They no longer came here. Those who had used it since, let it decline.
It was infested with roaches and spiders. We found two dead birds—a really big one behind the refrigerator and another in a basket in a bedroom.
It hadn’t been cleaned in decades. Maybe a hit and miss, here and there, but not cleaned back to clean.
Every sink leaked. Someone said, “Let’s fix that—put this (flower vase) under there.” Of course, it filled up and over flowed. Rot under every sink and into the ceiling below.
A toilet leaked. “Just never mind that.” It, too, had leaked into the ceiling of the basement a long time.
Two thresholds leaked, had rotted, and subflooring needed replacement.
The yard sloped from the street, down to the house, then on to the lake. Water leaked into the basement and under the lower deck every time it rained. Baseboards, sheet rock, and deck supports developed rot, mold, and crud. We dug trenches and installed two separate 50′ French drains.
A new heat and air unit had been installed five years earlier. Never serviced since. We turned it on. It lasted two weeks before crapping out. Fortunately, it still had a warranty in effect.
The range lasted six months. It had no warranty.
I’d planned to install a garbage disposal. The kitchen sink’s drain had been installed so high under the sink, to re-plumb would cost about $1000. There were better places to put that money at that point, so I clean out a mesh trap we have in the drain several times a day.
There were light fixtures that had no wires. There were wires that had no light fixtures.
We power-washed the entire house on the outside.
The stairs going to the basement are not right. It appears there are more steps needed to get from the main floor to the basement than the amount of space allowed for the staircase. The risers are a bit high and the treads are narrow. And it was covered in loose carpet. You didn’t know if you were going to step on a tread or an air pocket under the carpet. We ripped off the carpet. They’re still not fixed. We’re at a loss as to exactly the best way to address them. Today, they sit waiting for us to decide.
It took one hour to clean each window. There are 12, including 3 French doors. First, vacuum up loose bugs and dirt. Second, spray with full-strength ammonia and scrub with a nylon scrubby and toothbrush to remove stuck on bugs and dirt. Third, rinse with hot water. Fourth, spray with Dirtex (the world’s best window cleaner, IMHO.) and wipe dry with papertowels.
A new roof, much heavier than the previous asphalt shingled roof, had been installed, but no additional support was added. A whole-house attic fan had been installed in the ceiling supported by the same inadequate ceiling joists holding up the roof. When the popcorn was removed, we found the ceiling sagged. If not reinforced, the ceiling would continue caving in and dragging the walls with it. I’ll tell you more about that later.
This list is by no means comprehensive. We’re still working on things, but at least, we can take a breath now and then.
It’s ironic you’re reading a website that offers to make your life better, easier, lovelier.
Right now? Our life is much lovelier. We often wake up to this:
Or the sounds of traffic:
We love the lake. We sit outside every afternoon possible watching the water—do nothing, but we watch it. The sound of the waves against the shore is almost like a gentle ocean. We love the wildlife.
A heron sits on our dock (unless it sinks, as it needs attention, too) at some point every day.
Ducks and geese swoop in for a spell.
Fish jump. It’s nice having Mary and Payton come visit and then go home.
As you see from these pictures, there is still much to be done. The better is here, we’re hoping the easier and lovelier come soon.
Nothing glamorous and we’re still in the middle of getting things sorted.
This is the opposite side of the house and will be my herb garden.
A couple of months ago, I went back and looked at the tax records and Zillow on both of the houses we made offers on last year. Just out of curiosity. It appears the Tudor is off the market and sitting there. On the other, evidently after we made our offer, the family sold it to someone they knew (from my research last year, the name rings a bell) for the same price as our offer. Go figure.
I drove by the Tudor with the lonely man the other day. I don’t think anything has changed. He’s still there, hoping life will change.
Until next time. Be sweet.
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